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James Tindall’s decisive second-half double helped Old Georgians battle past Wimbledon to open up an eight-point gap on their rivals in the ‘Top 6’ of the Men’s Premier Division.
Mirroring the Vitality Women’s Hockey League 24 hours earlier, this weekend saw the top-flight’s leading two teams duel it out in south-west London and it was in-form Old Georgians who clinched a pulsating 5-3 victory at Raynes Park High School.
The table-topping visitors came into the contest with momentum after last week’s 5-1 win over Surbiton and required just nine minutes to carry on where they left off as Ashley Jackson fired them into an early lead.
But Wimbledon, who started the day five points behind the Surrey side, delivered a rousing first-half rally as Ed Horler and Liam Ansell dramatically turned the tables four minutes later.
That setback seemed to spark Old Georgians back into life at the break, however, as goals from Tom and Ed Carson re-established their advantage in the second period.
Then up popped Tindall to craft a two-goal cushion and while Horler pulled one back for the hosts, former England ace Tindall, 38, was on hand to fire home in the 68th minute and lead his team to victory.
The previous evening, Surbiton had beaten Hampstead & Westminster under the Sugden Road lights as two goals from Gareth Furlong helped them pile the pressure on Wimbledon.
Furlong’s double, bolstered by Luke Taylor’s strike – all from penalty corners – repelled efforts from Matthew Guise-Brown and Rupert Shipperley to ensure Surbiton moved level on points with Wimbledon ahead of their Sunday showdown.
Their defeat against Old Georgians means it’s now Surbiton in second on goal difference, while in the other game of the ‘Top 6’ weekend, East Grinstead and Holcombe drew 3-3 in a thriller.
Jamie Wallace scored twice for the hosts as they valiantly fought back from 3-1 down – Greg Nolan, Tom Russell and Nick Bandurak scored for Holcombe – to snatch a point at the death through Louis Gittens’ late leveller.
In the bottom tier of the Men’s Premier Division, Henry Croft’s brilliant hat-trick helped Beeston cut the gap on Oxted at the top of the table with a 3-2 win at home to University of Exeter.
With the team at the summit not in action, Croft’s heroics rendered Lewis Wilcher and Rhys Bradshaw’s strikes in vain to move Beeston just one point behind Oxted having played once more.
And in the other clash on Sunday, Brooklands Manchester University enjoyed a north-east away day to remember as they returned home from Durham University with a fine 4-1 victory.
Richard Slater’s double either side of Felix Tully and David Flanagan’s goals helped cap a convincing triumph and saw Brooklands leapfrog their opponents into third in the table.
Division One North
Loughborough Students and University of Nottingham cemented their status as the league’s teams to beat with emphatic wins against City of Peterborough and Cambridge City.
Two goals each from Tom Ferris and Barney Blithell helped fire Loughborough to a 10-1 triumph while just a few miles north in the East Midlands, Conor Williamson also grabbing two saw his side win 4-1.
Cardiff & Met remain the league’s closest challenger and bounced back from last week’s defeat with a 2-1 win over Bowdon, while Sheffield Hallam clambered off the bottom after racking up four points this weekend.
They drew 3-3 with fellow strugglers Deeside Ramblers on Saturday before a hard-fought 2-1 win at Olton & West Warwickshire saw them move one point above City of Peterborough after their defeat at Loughborough Students.
Deeside Ramblers also played twice this weekend and picked up a valuable three points with a 3-2 win against University of Birmingham on Sunday.
Division One South
Scott Rawlings was the hero as his goal propelled Havant to a stunning maiden win of the season against table-topping Reading.
After heading into the contest without a single point to their name, Rawlings’ goal sprung a surprise in Berkshire to mean Reading’s lead at the summit was wiped out.
Canterbury’s 5-1 win against Brighton & Hove means they are now level on points with Reading at the top of the table, while Team Bath Buccaneers are third after their 3-1 win against Oxford Hawks.
Old Cranleighan are fourth after they were held to a 2-2 draw by Teddington, while the Division One South weekend kicked off with Southgate’s 2-1 triumph over Sevenoaks on Saturday night.
It’s a tense battle at the top after Old Loughtonians, Spencer and Richmond all won their matches on a goal-fuelled weekend of action.
On Sunday, Indian Gymkhana won 4-1 against Bromley & Beckenham while West Herts toppled London Edwardians 3-2 – but it was on Saturday afternoon when the league’s pace-setters took to the Conference East pitch.
Old Loughtonians breezed to a 4-1 win against Hampstead & Westminster 2s but Spencer and Richmond were forced to battle in their games against London Wayfarers and Wapping, clinching 3-2 and 4-3 wins respectively to remain within touching distance of Old Loughtonians at the summit.
Barford Tigers delivered a hammer blow to Harborne’s title hopes as they claimed a crucial 3-1 in the battle at the top.
The two sides were locked level on points heading into the encounter but the home side’s triumph means they’re now three points ahead in a two-horse race.
Harleston Magpies are third after a 2-0 win against University of Birmingham 2s, St Albans beat Bedford 5-0 to stay fourth, while Lichfield toppled rock-bottom Khalsa Leamington 5-1.
Elsewhere, Cambridge University and Loughborough Town played out an entertaining 3-3 draw.
Another battle at the top saw Belper and Timperley draw 1-1 as Didsbury Northern were unable to pile on the pressure against Leeds.
They also drew 1-1 to remain seven points adrift of table-topping Belper, while Doncaster won 3-1 at Alderley Edge to stay fourth.
Elsewhere, Wakefield beat Durham University 2s 2-0 and Preston ground out a gutsy 2-1 triumph at Beeston 2s.
The top five teams are separated by as many points after an eventful weekend in the Conference West.
University of Bristol beat Isca 3-1 to remain at the top, while Fareham kept up the pace with a 3-2 win at Plymouth Marjon.
Ashmoor won 6-2 at Cardiff University to move into third, while Chichester – who are fifth – drew 1-1 at Cheltenham and University of Exeter 2s beat Clifton Robinsons 4-0.